The Key to Killing Lyme Disease: Mice?

Biologist develops vaccine-packed, edible pellets

By Matt Cantor,  Newser Staff

Posted Apr 20, 2014 8:45 AM CDT
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(Newser) – A Tennessee scientist has developed a novel way to fight Lyme disease—and it starts with your local mice. Mice can carry the bacteria Borrelia burgdorferi, which causes Lyme, so molecular biologist Maria Gomes-Solecki decided to target the furry creatures rather than taking direct aim at the ticks that suck mouse blood and then transmit Lyme to humans. Her tactic, via Ozy:

  1. Pack oatmeal pellets with a vaccine that kills the bacteria.
  2. Mice find and eat the pellets; they create antibodies against the bacteria.
  3. Ticks bite the mice and pick up the antibodies, killing any Borrelia burgdorferi they might have been carrying.

An ingenious plan, but does it work? Gomes-Solecki tested it by putting vaccinated pellets and placebo pellets on separate plots of land. After five years—a period of time based on a tick's two-year life cycle—researchers found that the number of infected ticks in the vaccine-treated areas had dropped 76%, while the number in the other plots hadn't dropped at all. Eventually, Gomes-Solecki is hoping to market her strategy, selling the pellets "in little boxes in your local Home Depot," she says. That way, she figures, people can cut down on the Lyme bacteria around their homes. A tick expert, however, tells Ozy that a lot more research is needed; the study was carried out in a very controlled format. (Click to see why Lyme disease recently got even more terrifying.)

Could vaccinating mice help prevent Lyme disease in humans?
Could vaccinating mice help prevent Lyme disease in humans?   (Shutterstock)
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